The customer service paradigm as we know it is being gradually eroded away by the forces of social media. It is being pulled outwards, away from the company and into the hands of customers themselves. The challenge for businesses is not only to face up to this, but also to identify meaningful and relevant ways in which to provide a form of customer service that utilises the best characteristics of social media. This hybrid ‘social media customer service’ must somehow find its rightful place alongside the self-help social networks created by customers themselves.

Twitter

Take the example of Twitter and the impact it is having on the provision of customer services. To focus on the ‘fad versus trend’ debate in my view only serves to ignore the inherent value that Twitter offers. Frank Eliason (@comcastcares) of ComCast has rightly observed the early warning characteristic of Twitter. In my own work at Carphone Warehouse (@guyatcarphone) I have observed this first hand with the recent Apple iPhone upgrade to 3GS.

Checking Twitter activity the night before the launch highlighted that once we integrate Twitter as a more formal part of any handset launch, we have the opportunity to potentially minimise issues well in advance of an actual launch, particularly around stock availability and delivery.

A further characteristic of Twitter is around the whole issue of ‘time’. Not time to resolve an issue, but rather time to identify an issue. Whilst I believe that Twitter can be used effectively to resolve first line issues and stop them ever coming into the contact centre itself, for more complex ones, a resolution will happen in line with more traditional channels of resolution such as email or phone. However, the time it now takes to actually identify an issue and make that initial contact with a customer is far quicker than before.

C2C customer service: some random thoughts (‘customer-to-customer’)

Customers are helping themselves and each other.

Businesses are no longer integral to the customer service value chain proposition.

How does a business harness what is effectively a decentralised call centre network?

Pockets of information authored by many different people that are accessible 24/7 in many different formats and on a variety of platforms – podcasts, blogs, videos, twitter, web, mobile phone.

Geography is no longer a factor to the provision of customer service.

Anyone with knowledge can provide an answer. But whose information do you trust? Are customer ratings the new ‘trust’?

Customer service is part issue resolution, part marketing, part PR, part sales opportunity…

Who owns customer service?

Will customers be able to design and engineer their own customer service ‘micro-interaction’?

If I can now complain and provide feedback on a third party site (ComplaintCommunity, Plebble etc) and it is broadcast to any number of people, why would I complain on a company web site where the only audience is me and the company? Even if a company chooses to ignore my complaint it is, if nothing else, forever in the public domain. What are the implications for a company?

As the underlying forces of Twitter or whatever the next fad might be become more mainstream how does a business integrate that force (ie. ‘time’ or ‘early warning system’) or even scale it in a viable way?

…the challenge businesses face is just how do you take advantage of the best that social media has to offer and integrate it into your overall customer service offerings.

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